Decadent Fudge Cake for Easter

DSC_0012For the last several years I have made a lamb-shaped cake for my family’s Easter dinner. Last year I did a yellow cake, baked in the two halves of the open mold. The year before I made a carrot cake in the closed mold. Both years I made a tasty cake, though not without a few mishaps.

This year I decided not to mess with the potential frustrations of the lamb pan. I have a new swirly bundt pan that I am using every chance I get, so I used that to bake a chocolate cake. I didn’t expect any of the family to even notice that the lamb didn’t make an appearance.

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Boy, was I wrong. Everyone wanted to know what kind of lamb I had made this year. And everyone remembered the lamb from two years ago with his head held on with skewers. But they were all suitably impressed with the chocolate cake and the cool shape from the pan.

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The cake. Oh the cake. I have made this cake before, but this time it was at its best -darkly chocolate, slightly crispy on the outside, especially on the ridges from the pan, but very fudgy on the inside, almost like a flourless chocolate cake.

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This cake started out as a recipe from a card I received in the mail, which I have since lost. Companies used to send out sample recipes for monthly recipe clubs you could subscribe to. The internet sounded the death knell for these clubs. I never subscribed to one, but I did make this cake, with a few changes. The chocolate I use is darker than the original, I increased the vanilla and I changed margarine to butter. And I eliminated the fussy chocolate and white chocolate leaves that the original cake was topped with. The cake can certainly stand on its own, with no embellishment.

The cake uses chocolate syrup, which I rarely buy. I would like to find a substitute for it, since I just used up the last of the bottle to make the cake. It provides some liquid, some sugar and some chocolate. I am playing around with the idea of more buttermilk and a little cocoa, though maybe not more sugar, to make the cake even darker. Or I could just leave it out and see what happens.

I want to do some experiments, but I need to have another holiday or party so other people can help us eat the cake. If you have any ideas for substitutions, send them my way.

Download or print the recipe here.

Decadent Fudge Cake
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 12-15

4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate
4 ounces 70% chocolate
½ teaspoon baking soda
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 sticks butter (8 ounces), room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1½ cups sugar
4 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
⅓ cup chocolate syrup (like Hershey’s)
1 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Heavily grease a 10-inch bundt pan and set aside.

Melt the baking chocolate and 70% chocolate in the microwave or a double boiler. Set aside to cool. Stir the baking soda together with the flour in a medium bowl and set aside.

Beat the butter with the sugar and vanilla extract until light and fluffy and no longer grainy – 3-5 minutes.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.

Add about one-third of the flour mixture and mix well. Add half of the buttermilk and mix again. Repeat with remaining flour and buttermilk, ending with flour. Mix in melted chocolate and chocolate syrup until well mixed, with no streaks of plain batter remaining. Stir in chocolate chips.

Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth top. The batter will almost fill the pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 45-60 minutes, until the top springs back when touched. Bake the shorter amount of time if you want the middle to be slightly fudgy.

Cool the cake in the pan for 10 minutes. Loosen the edges of the cake with a knife or thin spatula and turn out onto a serving plate. Place the plate on a wire rack and cool until room temperature before covering.

Dust cake with powdered sugar just before serving. Cake keeps well at room temperature for several days. Freeze for longer storage.

Three Dessert Inspirations

I must say that I rarely need inspiration when I am deciding on a dessert to make. But just in case you have dessert baker’s block, I am highlighting three of my favorite desserts that say Fall and Halloween to me. And no, none of them have anything to do with pumpkin. Today is all about chocolate, and maybe a little vanilla. What’ll it be – brownies, cookies or flourless chocolate cake?

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Spicy S’mores Brownies

DSC_1160Iced Sugar Cookies

2012-09-28 15.48.16Flourless Chocolate Cake

Red Velvet Cake Balls

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Cake balls are everywhere. At least they used to be – I’m not totally up on all the dessert trends. I know, I know, I should be, but I make what I like and I like what I make. Apologies to Dr. Seuss. Anyway, I made a few cake balls last week and I must say, I am hooked.

As I chronicled in last week’s red velvet cake post, we had just a little bit of cake floating around here last week. Since we had two red velvet cakes in one week, we were just a wee bit tired of cake by the beginning of this week. We had a huge slab of cake left, and no one was eating it. Cake balls to the rescue.

I mashed the cake and icing together with a fork, until it was more or less homogenous. The mix was a little dry. I just happened to have a few tablespoons of leftover icing in the fridge. I added that to the mix and it made it the perfect texture. I can’t say it looked great – though cake mush isn’t all bad. I used my smallest cookie scoop and made about a dozen tiny balls. They were pretty squishy, but after a brief chill in the fridge, they held their shape nicely.

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While they were good plain, I decided to dip a few in melted chocolate. I used semisweet chocolate chips, since there were handy. The dipping job was rustic, to say the least. But I am all about flavor over appearance, so they were fine.

I am already thinking about other combinations, other than red velvet cake and cream cheese icing. I have a few pieces of vanilla cake in the freezer. And I think I saw a piece or two of chocolate bundt cake in there too, while I was rooting around to find a pork tenderloin for dinner on Tuesday. I see more cake balls in the future.

There isn’t really a recipe here. Mash cake with icing, ideally already iced cake that is leftover. If you have extra icing, you can add it to the mix if it is too dry to hold together. If you don’t, a tablespoon of melted butter would work nicely. Then make balls. If you want icing on the cake (hah!), dip the balls in melted chocolate. Eat and enjoy. All by yourself, if that floats your boat. Or you can share.

A Tale of Two Red Velvet Cakes

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Calvin’s birthday was Wednesday. Weekday birthdays are always hard, with work and school getting in the way of celebrations. So we started the celebrations early, inviting my parents for dinner the Saturday before. Of course we had to have cake at that birthday dinner, and we had to have cake on the actual day. You can’t skimp on birthday cake, especially for a mid-week birthday.

This year Calvin requested red velvet cake. It is a celebration worthy cake. The only problem was I didn’t have a go-to recipe – I have never made red velvet cake and I have only tasted it a couple of times. There are so many flavors I would rather try, if given a choice. I know the red is appealing to some, but I really can’t get past the idea of all that food coloring.

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But a birthday cake request is a birthday cake request, so I researched recipes. I combined a few of the recipes to make what I thought would be the best cake. I ended up making a rich, slightly chocolatey, very red cake. And I slathered it all with buttery cream cheese icing.

I made half a batch on Saturday, for the celebration with the grandparents. We wanted to eat most of it in one sitting, so that we weren’t eating leftover cake right up until the actual birthday. I planned to make another half recipe of cake on Wednesday so that Calvin could actually have a freshly made cake on his real birthday instead of leftovers.

I baked the first cake in a round cake pan and cut it into two semicircles so we would end up with half of a round layer cake. That is birthday cake to me  – my mom always made round layer cakes for our birthdays growing up. Everyday cakes were usually 9 by 13 rectangles, but she went all out for birthdays.

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The second half cake I baked in loaf pans, at Calvin’s request. Once the two layers were baked, I decided they were a little thin, so I cut them in half and stacked the four layers with icing.

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It ended up making a really tall, square cake. And it was the leaning tower of cake, since I got the icing a bit too soft and it was a hot day. And I was a little haphazard when I cut and stacked the layers. I managed to get the cake to stay stacked until the icing set, but it wasn’t the prettiest thing.

I can say that it might not have looked like a bakery cake, but it was four layers of red deliciousness, sandwiched with plenty of cream cheese icing – pretty much what you want from a red velvet cake. The birthday boy was happy with it, and that’s all that counts.

Download or print just the recipe here.

Red Velvet Cake
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 10-12

Cake:
¾ cup butter (1½ sticks), room temperature
1½ cups granulated sugar
2 eggs
4 tablespoons natural cocoa powder
2 tablespoons red food coloring
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour two 9-inch round cake pans. Set aside.

Beat butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy and no longer gritty. Add eggs, cocoa powder and red food coloring and beat again until well combined.

Mix flour, baking soda and salt together in a small bowl. Mix buttermilk, vinegar and vanilla extract in another bowl.

Add about half of the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat until just combined. Add the buttermilk mixture and mix well. Add the remaining flour mixture and beat well. Scrape down sides with a spatula as needed.

Divide batter between the prepared pans and level tops. Bake for 22-30 minutes, or until cakes are pulling away from the sides of the pans and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Try not to over bake or the cake will be dry.

Let cakes cool in pans on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes. Remove from pans and let cool on the rack until room temperature before icing.

Cream Cheese Icing:
1 8-ounce block cream cheese, room temperature
½ cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 cups powdered sugar, approximately
1-2 teaspoons milk, if necessary

Beat cream cheese, butter and vanilla with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar and beat until combined and fluffy. Add a little more powdered sugar if icing is too thin. Add a touch of milk if icing is too thick to spread.

Place one layer of cake on a plate. Spread top with icing, almost to the edge. Top with other layer. Ice the top and sides of the cake with the remaining icing. Let icing set up for an hour or so before serving, if possible. Leftovers keep well for several days. Freeze for longer storage.

Mini Chocolate-Striped Cakes

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Calvin often takes enough dessert in his school lunches to share with a couple of his friends. I hear back, through him, which of our homemade desserts are the lunchroom favorites. Gooey butter tarts are tops on the list so far. Even when I don’t hear the compliments firsthand, and when the compliments are from always-hungry teenage boys, I enjoy baking for an appreciative audience.

Last week, Calvin came home from school asking if we could make our own version of Little Debbie zebra cakes. One of his pals had shared some at lunch and Calvin was a fan. I don’t have to tell you what my answer was.

After some thought, I decided to use our tried-and-true white Texas sheet cake recipe for both the cake and the icing. I wanted to make the cake layers thin, so we used half the recipe and baked it in a large pan.

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We used a cookie cutter to cut circles out of the big cake. Calvin lobbied for hexagons like the originals, but I vetoed that. If we had a hexagon cutter I would have done it, but we don’t. Next time I might just cut squares and skip the whole cake scraps part. But the scraps were tasty. And I used a few to make a mini trifle with some leftover pastry cream from a batch of almost failed cream puffs (more on those another day).

At first I thought the cake layers were too thin, but once we sandwiched two layers together with icing they were the perfect size. A drizzle of melted chocolate on top of the icing and they were good to go.

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I iced the sides of the first cake, but then I nixed that idea. The icing was thickening quickly and I wasn’t sure I wanted to take the time to ice the sides anyway. I will only go so far when copycatting a recipe. The cake and icing are both very sweet and icing the sides is probably overkill.

If you do decide you want to go all out, you will probably want to double the icing ingredients. Just be aware that the icing thickens very fast. You might have to re-warm it part way through if it gets too thick to spread onto the tender cake.

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Our zebra cakes were moist, buttery and sweet. We stuck with the original recipe’s combo of vanilla and almond, but I think I want to make it all vanilla next time. For the record, Rich and Calvin do not agree.

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Download or print the recipe here.

Mini Chocolate-Striped Cakes
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 12 mini cakes

If you don’t like almond extract, you can substitute an equal amount of vanilla extract for the almond extract. If you don’t have a large baking sheet, you can use two 9 by 13 inch pans. If you only have one 9 by 13, you can bake half the batter at a time.

Cake:
½ cup butter (1 stick)
½ cup water
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 egg, well beaten
¼ cup sour cream or plain yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon almond extract (see headnote)

Icing:
¼ cup butter (½ stick)
2 tablespoons milk
2¼ cups powdered sugar, sifted (DON’T skip sifting or you’ll have lumpy icing)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract (see head note)

Stripes:
3 tablespoons semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 12 by 17 inch half sheet pan or a 15 by 10 inch jelly roll pan with waxed or parchment paper. Set aside.

Bring butter and water to a boil in a saucepan or the microwave. In a large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, salt and baking powder. In a separate bowl, mix together egg, sour cream or yogurt and extracts.

Add hot butter and water mixture to dry mixture and stir until smooth. Add egg mixture and stir until well combined. Pour into prepared pan and spread in a thin, even layer. Bake for about 7 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and the cake bounces back when touched lightly. Let cake cool, in the pan on a wire rack until room temperature.

Use a round cookie cutter to cut circles out of the cake. I used a 2¾ inch diameter round cutter and got 24 circles, to make a total of twelve sandwiched cakes. Save the cake scraps to make a mini trifle, or just eat them.

Once the circles are cut and ready, make the icing.

In a saucepan, bring milk and butter to a boil. Remove from heat and add powdered sugar and extracts and stir until smooth.

You need to work fairly quickly – the icing gets thick as it cools, and the cakes are tender. Spread icing on the tops of half of the cake circles. Top with the remaining circles. Spread icing on the tops of the stacked cakes. There won’t be enough icing to cover the sides of the cakes. If you really want to ice the sides, double the icing amounts and find another use for any leftover icing.

Let icing set up and harden, which probably will take about 30 minutes.

Melt the chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl for about 75 seconds on high power. Stir them halfway through. Transfer melted chocolate to a small ziplock baggie. Cut off the corner and use the baggie like a piping bag to pipe melted chocolate in stripes across the tops of the cakes. Let chocolate set up before covering cakes for storage.

Make these a day ahead of time, if possible. Cakes improve with age and are good keepers, staying moist for 3-4 days, if they last that long. Cakes freeze well.

Black Devil’s Food Cupcakes

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I have posted on black devil’s food cake before, but not on the cupcakes. I love this cake, in whatever form I can get it. I have doubled the recipe, made a half recipe, iced it with its original fudge icing, used cream cheese icing, served it with chocolate sauce or next to ice cream. When I thought chocolate was giving me migraines, I made it with carob powder instead of cocoa. The long and short of it is – this is a great all-purpose chocolate cake. It goes together with no more than a bowl and a spoon and it bakes up in a flash.

I am giving you the half recipe today, which makes 12 cupcakes. I did not cut the icing recipe in half though. In my opinion, you can never have too much of this icing. I often double the amount when I am making the full-size cake, as it makes a nice thick coating that way. You will probably have icing left over after you ice your cupcakes. Leftover icing is never something to complain about.

I sometimes use vanilla in the batter, and sometimes not. The original recipe didn’t call for it, and made that way it is a taste of childhood. Rich, vanilla lover that he is, prefers to use the vanilla. Make the recipe the way you prefer. And if you have to make the cupcakes twice and do a side-by-side taste test, who am I to stand in the way of science?

One note – don’t use paper cupcake liners when making these. Too much of the cake sticks to them and they don’t come off cleanly. Just lightly grease the wells of the pan and the cupcakes will come out just fine.

What recipe do you make over and over again, changing it to suit your mood?

Download or print just the recipe here.

Black Devil’s Food Cupcakes
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 12 cupcakes

If you have time, make these the day before you need them. They only get better with age – the icing softens a bit and starts to soak into the cake and the chocolate flavor intensifies. They are also perfectly fine the day you make them.

Cupcakes:
1 cup flour
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1½ teaspoons baking soda
⅓ cup vegetable or canola oil
½ cup buttermilk*
1 teaspoon vanilla, optional
½ cup strongly brewed coffee

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin pan. Set aside.

Stir together the flour, sugar, cocoa and baking soda in a large bowl. Add oil, buttermilk and vanilla, if using, and stir well. Carefully stir in coffee. Batter will be very thin.

Using about ⅓ cup of batter per cupcake, fill pan. Wipe off any drips before baking. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until tops spring back when touched lightly.

Cool cupcakes in pans about 5 minutes before removing to a rack to cool to room temperature. Wait until cupcakes are cool to ice them.

* Commercial buttermilk works best. But if you don’t have any, you can substitute slightly less than ¼ cup plain yogurt and slightly more than ¼ cup regular milk, mixed together. Or measure 1½ teaspoons vinegar or lemon juice into a measuring cup and fill to the ½ cup mark with regular milk. Let stand for a few minutes before using. The cupcakes won’t rise quite as high with either substitution.

Fudge Icing:
3 tablespoons cocoa
1 cup sugar
dash salt
¼ cup milk
¼ cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Mix all but vanilla in a medium saucepan. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring. Reduce heat slightly and boil for one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Stir until very thick (it will look like a thick milkshake). When you draw a spatula or spoon across the bottom of the pan, the icing will only slowly start to fill in the gap.

You need to work quickly at this point. Dip the top of each cupcake in the icing, spinning the cupcake to get a thick coat of icing. Place each cupcake back on the cooking rack for the icing to set up. Icing will run down the sides of the cupcakes, which will make them look absolutely fabulous. If icing gets too thick to dip the last few cupcakes, use a knife to spread icing on those.

There will be icing left over. It is perfect on graham crackers, pretzels or fingers.

Store cupcakes in an airtight container for several days, if they last that long. You can freezer for longer storage.

A Trio of Vanilla Pound Cakes

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Saturday was the day to do side by side tastings of our three vanilla extracts. We started with French toast for breakfast, with three egg dips for the bread – one with Madagascar vanilla, one with Mexican and one with Tahitian. I must say we couldn’t taste much difference between the Madagascar and the Mexican. The Tahitian was slightly more fragrant and slightly deeper in flavor. All in all, not an exciting taste testing experience. That isn’t to say that the French toast, dripping in butter and sprinkled with powdered sugar, wasn’t a nice way to start a weekend morning.

Later in the day I was thinking of what we could have for dessert. Saturday is our dessert day around here. I try to keep my baking confined to the weekends, at least for desserts, since I don’t have enough willpower to resist the pull of sugar and butter if there are baked goods sitting around. I decided on vanilla pound cake, so I could continue our taste testing.

The original pound cake recipe made two large loaves. I knew that we didn’t need two loaves of buttery vanilla goodness in the house. I decided to cut the recipe in half, and then divide the batter into thirds and use one type of vanilla in each. We would end up with three small loaves of pound cake – just enough to have a few tastes each before they were gone.

The recipe called for ¾ teaspoon of vanilla to make the two large loaves. If I cut the recipe exactly in half, as written, I would be using an eighth of a teaspoon of vanilla in each little loaf. That just didn’t seem like enough to me. After some discussion within the family, we decided on a teaspoon per third of the batter. For normal baking that would mean a tablespoon in the whole cake – not a small amount, but not crazy either.

The cakes baked up beautifully – golden brown, buttery and fragrant with vanilla. I was careful to keep them in the same order in the oven and on the cooling racks so I could keep track of which cake had which vanilla in it. “Madagascar, Mexican, Tahitian,” became the chant of the hour. Alphabetical order, you know.

We gave them their full time to cool and then we sliced each one. We were careful to keep them in order on our plates so we could do a proper taste testing. There was no doubt which one held the Tahitian vanilla. It smelled exactly like freshly made ice cream cones in an ice cream shop. We have noticed this with everything we have made with it so far, including pancakes and waffles.

The actual taste testing results were pretty similar to the French toast. The Mexican and Madagascar vanillas were pretty similar to each other, and to regular vanilla. The Tahitian was more fragrant and had greater depth than the other two. Of course, I couldn’t decide after my three pieces, so I had to have another set of three. In my defense, I had the end pieces to start, so they were smaller than what Rich and Calvin got. And the larger amount of crust, with its extra caramelization, interfered with my ability to taste the vanilla properly.

Final results – while we have yet to meet a vanilla that we don’t like, the Tahitian won hands down. The other two weren’t a lot different from our bottle of McCormick’s from Sam’s. We probably will buy one bottle of Tahitian vanilla when these three are gone.

I hope you are all as interested in our vanilla adventures as we are. Did I mention that we are already half done with the three bottles that were Rich’s Christmas gift? We didn’t open them until a few days into January – we have used six ounces of vanilla in a month. We have done a little more vanilla baking than we would have done normally, but I think that is pretty representative of our usual vanilla consumption. There are worse vices to have than an obsession with vanilla, right?

Download or print the recipe here.

Vanilla Pound Cake
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 1 loaf

I recommend letting the cake stand on its own, so the butter and vanilla can shine. But you can add a dusting of powdered sugar or a drizzle of chocolate or caramel sauce, if you like.

½ cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 eggs
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly grease an 8 by 4 inch loaf pan and set aside.

Beat butter and cream cheese together until fluffy. Add sugar and vanilla and beat again until light and fluffy and no longer gritty. Add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Stir in salt and flour, taking care not to beat.

Spread batter in the prepared pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until dark golden brown around the edges and golden brown on top. A toothpick inserted in the middle will come out clean when the cake is done.

Cool cake in the pan, on a wire rack, for about 10 minutes. Then run a knife around the edges and turn cake out of the pan onto the rack. Let cool to room temperature before slicing to serve. Keeps well for several days in an airtight container at room temperature. Freeze for longer storage.